6. Matt Grzelcyk, Senior, Boston University (Hockey East)
Drafted: Third round (85th overall) in 2012 by the Boston Bruins
Matt Grzelcyk got off to a late start after recovering from offseason knee surgery, making his season debut November 6th. He played in just six games before being sidelined again with another injury, this time to the opposite knee. Grzelcyk returned to the BU lineup in January, and his presence was immediately felt.
The Charlestown, MA native has posted 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 26 games to date. On January 9th versus UMass, Grzelcyk netted his first career hat trick to guide Boston University to a 7-2 win. He became the first Terriers rearguard in over a decade to accomplish the feat. Most recently, Grzelcyk was named a Hockey East First Team All-Star.
Grzelcyk has developed into one of the nation’s most resilient players. Although he has missed significant time due to injuries throughout his career, Grzelcyk has shown that, when he is healthy, he can be a difference-maker.
What Grzelcyk lacks in size (5’10”, 176 lbs.), he more than makes up for with his great combination of skating, quickness, and efficient puck-moving ability, and he he has utilized these assets quite effectively in all three zones. His vastly improved defensive game is evident in how quickly he can get to pucks and get them out of his own zone. Furthermore, his feet allow him to get out of difficult situations more quickly. Grzelcyk is exceedingly smart in moving the puck, and it is not often that you will see him make an errant pass.
7. Will Butcher, Junior, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted: Fifth round (123rd overall) in 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche
Will Butcher has been quietly putting together a terrific season while making some notable strides in his development. As a result, he has become a more complete, 200-foot player who can effectively play in and adapt to any situation. In addition, he has struck a nice balance with his offensive and defensive sides of the game.
The Sun Prairie, WI native currently leads all NHL-drafted defensemen in the NCAA with 29 points (six goals, 23 assists) in 38 games. He is on pace to potentially double the 18 points he posted last season. In addition, he leads the Pioneers with a +22 rating. An area where Butcher has excelled this season has been on special teams where, of his six goals, three have come on special teams – two on the power play and one shorthanded. Most recently, Butcher’s stellar season earned him a spot on the All-NCHC First Team.
One of the keys to Butcher’s success this season is his consistently smart decision-making with the puck. He has become more calculated in his puck placement and distribution. It isn’t often that Butcher can be found making errant outlet passes or creating turnovers. Furthermore, his decisions with the puck have enhanced both sides of his game, whether it is in clearing the zone or setting up developing plays.
8. Devon Toews, Junior, Quinnipiac University (ECAC)
Drafted: Fourth round (108th overall) in 2014 by the New York Islanders
Devon Toews is one of the most improved NCAA defensive prospects this season. The Abbotsford, BC native currently leads all Bobcats defensemen with 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 39 games to date. His 27 points is also tied for ninth nationally among defensemen and is a new career high. One area where Toews has been especially effective has been on the power play, where 13 of his 27 points have come.
The strides that Toews made in his development last season have carried over to this season, and as a result, he has taken his game to a whole new level as he works to become a more complete player. Toews has continued developing in a number of areas, most notably in his decision-making. This is particularly evident in his ability to know when to jump into plays and where to move the puck. As good as Toews is at creating offensive opportunities by joining the play, it doesn’t come at the expense of his defensive responsibilities. He is also smarter and more patient with the puck, especially when moving it through traffic. Furthermore, he is more creative and opportunistic with the puck on his stick.
Another notable area of improvement for Toews is the grit that he has added to his game. While not overly physical, he has shown increased willingness to play the body when necessary, particularly in one-on-one situations.
9. Jake Walman, Sophomore, Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Third round (82nd overall) in 2014 by the St. Louis Blues
Jake Walman began the season as one of the nation’s hottest players before being sidelined with an injury just prior to the Christmas break. Although his torrid pace slowed after returning to the lineup in January, he continued to be a reliable point producer for Providence College. Sadly, the Toronto, ON native’s sophomore campaign has come to an end due to requiring surgery for his mid-season injury. Despite being limited to 27 games, Walman continues to lead all NCAA defensemen with 13 goals. His 28 points is currently tied for seventh among all collegiate defensemen. Most recently, Walman was named a Hockey East First Team All-Star.
Walman possesses one of the best shots in the NCAA. It is a deceptively hard shot that has become more accurate this season. Furthermore, his improved ability to get shots through has created more opportunities for his teammates. He is an excellent skater who is utilizes his feet very effectively, particularly in getting out of difficult situations.
The most notable area that Walman had improved this season is how he uses his strengthened 6’1”, 193-pound frame both offensively and defensively. He is able to maintain puck possession more consistently in offensive situations while being able to separate opposing players more successfully in defensive situations.
10. Will Borgen, Freshman, St. Cloud State University (NCHC)
Drafted: Fourth round (92nd overall) in 2015 by the Buffalo Sabres
Will Borgen got off to a strong start this season and continued to build on that en route to earning a spot on Team USA’s World Junior Championship team. The Moorhead, MN native has played in 40 games to date for St. Cloud State, posting 14 points (one goal, 13 assists). Borgen posted his first and only collegiate goal thus far on Mar. 11th versus Western Michigan in the NCHC quarterfinals. Most recently, Borgen was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team.
As good as Borgen has been with St. Cloud State this season, he was equally good with Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors. He finished the tournament with three assists. His +6 ranked third on the American squad and finished tied for third amongst all tournament defensemen.
At 6’2’ and 195 pounds, Borgen has very good size. But what has separated him from many rookie defensemen this season is how intelligently and advantageously he utilizes his frame. Although it wasn’t as noticeable at the World Junior Championship, Borgen plays with a good amount of grit. While he can deliver solid checks, it isn’t often that he takes himself out of plays while doing so. Furthermore, he has steadily improved in one-on-one situations.
Another area where Borgen has progressed quite well is in his play with the puck as he possesses good poise and patience with the puck, and doesn’t panic when pressured.
Just missing the cut
Michael Brodzinski (SJS), Junior, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Michael Downing (FLA), Junior, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Paul LaDue (LAK), Junior, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Luc Snuggerud (CHI), Sophomore, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
Mike Prapavessis (DAL), Sophomore, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC)